Grief in the Midst of the Holiday Season: Staying healthy while coping with loss

The holidays are a joyful time of the year for many, but it can be a difficult one for others, especially after experiencing loss. Grief can be overwhelming for some people, which not only impacts your emotional health, but it can also impact you physically, according to Dr. Parachur Nivedita, a physician with Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc.

Celina Gonzalez, behavioral health counselor and Dr. Parachur Nivedita, physician, of Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc.

Dr. Nivedita said it’s very important to pay close attention to your body during the grieving process. Grief can impact the immune system by weakening it, which can lead to illnesses and infections like colds and the flu, as well as angina (severe chest pain). Those going through grief who are managing chronic illnesses like diabetes or a heart condition, tend to sometimes neglect their health.

“People who are managing an ailment and then faced with a loss can become very ill when they stop taking their medications and seeing their doctor. A person can become so overwhelmed with grief that it can sometimes lead to serious complications, which can be life-threatening if not addressed,” said Dr. Nivedita.

Celina Gonzalez, a behavioral health counselor at Methodist Healthcare Ministries’ Dixon Health & Wellness Center, said grief is often caused by a great loss, which can include the death of a loved-one, close friend, animal companion or losing a job, ending a close relationship, divorce and the health deterioration of a family member or your own.

“When depression kicks-in that feeling of helplessness and hopelessness happens. There’s a stress hormone called cortisol and it’s released by the adrenal glands. When cortisol levels go up, your energy decreases which causes tiredness, as well as changes in diet and sleep,” explained Gonzalez. “The reason folks get sick as they grieve, is because they stop taking care of themselves.”

Dr. Nivedita said some people experience body aches, pain or other symptoms that are linked to grief. “When I learn that a patient has lost a loved-one, I will let them know about our grief support group that is available to help to help them cope, as well as counselors who can help them as they face the loss. It’s so important to take care of yourself during a life-changing event like the death of a loved-one.”

Gonzalez said people who are grieving sometimes become isolated. Their lives come to a halt during their season of grief. “They stop socializing with family, friends and co-workers. They stop eating healthy foods — weight loss or weight gain can occur. They sleep too much or not enough. These behavioral changes can impact, not only their emotional health but also their physical well-being.”

Dr. Nivedita said staying on track with your health is vital. “It’s important to keep taking your all of your medications and, if you have scheduled doctors’ appointments, you should keep them and not skip any of them.”

Coping with the Holiday Blues

The holiday season can include plenty of parties and gatherings, but Gonzalez said that it’s perfectly fine to skip them. “You can skip the parties or the invite to drive with friends to see Christmas lights downtown, but don’t stop caring for yourself. Keep track of your health and stay in touch with your circle of friends and family members.”

She said, “Grief can be overwhelming for some, especially when many traditions were created with loved ones who are no longer here. Traditions like making tamales, baking cookies, going shopping, watching favorite Christmas movies, attending plays and musicals — the list goes on. These reminders can sometimes trigger specific memories, causing deeper sadness for those grieving.”

Gonzalez said that it’s important to try and honor the memory of a loved one who has passed away, as part of the grieving and healing process. And, you can also decide what traditions you’d like to keep or create new ones in honor of your loved one.

“When you honor a loved one, it helps bring comfort. You can do this in many ways. You can make an ornament that reflects their personality, plant a tree, visit the cemetery with flowers, or prepare their favorite dish,” she said. “It’s about celebrating them in your own way. Give yourself permission to grieve because what you’re feeling is real. Also, there’s no timeframe for grieving. Everyone is different and should grieve for as long as needed but the key is to not neglect your health.”

If you or someone you know has recently experienced a loss, Gonzalez shares a few things you can do to help get through the season.

  • Draw from your faith in God to help you work through the healing.
  • Go for a walk, it’ll help clear your thoughts. And, don’t forget to breathe.
  • If you are currently taking medications, keep taking them, as directed by your doctor.
  • If you have scheduled doctor’s appointments, be sure to keep them.
  • Be patient with yourself by giving yourself permission to grieve.
  • Talk with someone who understands your loss. Perhaps make an appointment to see a grief counselor.
  • Join a grief support group. It’ll help connect you with others experiencing similar losses.
  • Get plenty of rest and drink lots of water to stay hydrated.

Gonzalez said it’s important to reach out to family, friends or a professional counselor, if you’re feeling overwhelmed with grief. But most of all, give yourself the gift of allowing yourself to work through the pain and grief, and construct a new connection with the deceased. And, above all, don’t stop taking care of yourself. Listen to your body. Keep taking your medications and seeing your doctor. And, take one day at a time.

Methodist Healthcare Ministries is dedicated to creating access to healthcare for the uninsured through direct services, community partnerships, and strategic grant-making in 74 counties across South Texas. Guided by its mission of "Serving Humanity to Honor God," the organization’s vision is to be the leader for improving wellness of the least served. The mission also includes Methodist Healthcare Ministries' one-half ownership of the Methodist Healthcare System, the largest healthcare system in South Texas, which creates a unique avenue to ensure that it continues to be a benefit to the community by providing quality care to all and charitable care when needed. For more information, visit